I’ve written before about the dangers of the “Tea Ceremony Scam” in China where attractive girls or other friendly young people invite foreigners to join them as they attend a nearby traditional Chinese tea ceremony. After a few tiny samples of tea, you’ll be billed for hundreds of dollars, and there might be some tough muscular guy there to enforce payment. This scam is actually dangerous, and if you fall for it, you’ll literally be in a den of criminals. It’s one of the most common scams in China.
It is important to know that there can be several variations of this scam. An important variation has come to my attention with the recent news story in the Shanghai Daily, “15 members of karaoke crime gang detained” (June 24, 2014). In this scam, friendly people invited victims to join them in karaoke. After some entertainment, a bill was presented for something like 30,000 RMB (US $5,000). In the case in the story, the man paid $1,000, everything he had, but this was not enough, and they were forcibly taking him back to his hotel to get the rest of his money. He managed to escape on the way and get help from the police, who eventually captured the gang. But there are probably many similar gangs in operation.
Whether you are in Shanghai, Beijing, or any other place that gets significant tourism, you have to be wary of friendly strangers who want to invite you somewhere. Don’t go with them. Don’t let merchants or others lead you down isolated alleys or remote floors of buildings to see their mystery shop. Don’t let them lead you into a room where they can lock the door to prevent you from escaping–something that happened to someone I know well. Fortunately for her, they were just keeping the police away from their fake goods operation, and the woman was able to get out unharmed. But don’t take those risks. Avoid the scams in China, but recognize that the scammers can be very polished, alluring, and highly trained–they are part of a well-oiled scam machine run by real professionals who have mastered effective systems that keep duping foreigner after foreigner, making loads of money for the scamlords.
Be alert. Make sure he change people give you is real Chinese money. Make sure the expensive product you buy is actually put int he package. Make sure the cab you get into you is a real cab using a real meter. If the meter is off and they quote you a price to get to your destination, don’t accept that unless you know what the real price is and it is close enough to be acceptable to you, otherwise you can many times the real price. Don’t prepay for rides because you might get dumped off for some other low bidder to take you, only to find additional fees on the way (yeah, I experienced that).
When you’ve been robbed by falling for a scam, you’ll feel really stupid and pained by how you were used and cheated. That’s a lot of stress that you can avoid in many cases by being alert and reducing your risks.
The Chinese people are generally honest, friendly, and decent, but the handful of exceptions are the ones who will be watching for you. They are organized and know you are coming. Be ready and stay safe.